Why can’t I lose weight? It’s a question Vanessa Chalmers was asking herself. As new research shows that Britons are underestimating their calorie intake by 50 per cent, she asks nutritional therapist May Simpkin to look over her food diary
It’s emerged this week that Britons are eating far more than food than they admit, fuelling obesity. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), men are typically having 1,000 more calories every day than they estimate, while women consumed about 800 more.
The ONS looked at the National Diet and Nutrition Survey on 4,500 adults, one of the key sources of supposedly reliable data about what Britain eats. Their research produced a more accurate estimate by looking at a subset of 200 people who had been monitored using a “gold standard” technique. They found that 34 per cent of the survey respondents claimed to be eating less than physically necessary to stay alive.
The more people ate, the less reliable their estimates were
The average recommended calorie consumption levels remain at 2,500 calories for men and 2,000 for women, according to those behind the campaign. The average adult is eating 200 to 250 more calories every day than they should, health officials say. However, the new data suggests that this could be largely underestimated.
Men and the young are more likely to underreport, and it appears the more people ate, the less reliable their estimates were. Expert Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, suggest people lie to themselves because they don’t want to ‘be taken for slobs’.
Can a food diary help with weight loss?
Previous studies have suggested that people who keep food journals are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. In fact, a researcher from this study says that people keeping a food diary six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who kept food records one day a week or less.
For this reason, I kept my own food diary at the beginning of last year (I have since lost weight with a weight loss transformation which you can read about here). I wasn’t counting calories – rather just recording what I ate to track my progress. I was as honest as I could, but much like those in the survey, I’m sure I lied to myself a couple of times.
At the end of three months, when my weight loss had hit a plateau, I tallied up what I had eaten. I was doing a lot of the right things – exercising 5 times a week or more, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and limiting processed foods.
But despite this, I was shocked to find I was having the equivalent of one drink a day due to alcohol binges at the weekend, chocolate four times a week and ‘treats’, of which I categorised as anything I wasn’t hungry for, once a day. Experts say food diaries can increase your awareness of what, how much and why you are eating, helping you to indentify areas that need change. For one, it was a relief to have a reason, on paper, for why my weight loss was stalled.
May Simpkin, a nutritional therapist, looked over my food diary for one week to give me some pointers on where I could improve my eating habits to lose weight.
My food diary:
|Monday||Smoothie. Kefir, protein powder, coconut oil, banana, strawberries, and chia seeds||Supermarket bean soup||Apple
|Chilli con carne with brown rice||Cherry tomatoes. Bone broth|
|Tuesday||Smoothie||Supermarket salad with dressing.||Chicken salad at restaurant||Apple, small salt popcorn, half a bar of dark chocolate|
|Smoothie||2 handfuls of cashew nuts||Tuna salad.||Salmon with baby new potatoes, broccoli, peas and parsley sauce.||Dairy free yoghurt, half mango, dark chocolate and cacao nibs|
|Thursday||Smoothie||A chocolate protein ball.||Chicken salad.||Spicy tomato curry with caulirice||Lots of grapes|
|Four falafel with wrap, salad, houmous.||Row of dark chocolate and soya ice cream.||Orange
Apple with cashew butter
|Saturday||Smoothie||Sweet potato and leek soup||Large handful walnuts. Apple juice.
Handful of raisins.
|Jerk chicken with fries and side salad at restaurant.||3 red wine
3 jager bombs
4 vodka, soda, lime
|Sunday||Porridge||Chicken roast, 2 Yorkshire puddings, parsnips, green beans and peas||Apple||Two slices of toast, butter and marmite||Vegan chocolate tiffin.|
Why I can’t lose weight: 9 eating mistakes I was making
May found key things in my week that I could change:
Eating the same breakfast: I have the same breakfast every day (almost). ‘Although it’s a good choice of smoothie with the kefir, fruit, oils, and protein powder’, says May, ‘if you vary your breakfast you vary nutrients which is really important. Try some eggs one day, yoghurt with a low-sugar granola, or porridge.’
Too many hidden sugars: A couple of times I had a shop bought salads with dressings or soups. ‘There is a lot more sugar in these than you think’ says May. ‘That will cause blood sugar fluctuations which will surge and then come crashing down, effecting your energy.’ To dress salads in the future, ‘Ideally, you can keep olive oil or balsamic vinegar on your desk.’
This also goes for items that may, on the outside, appear healthy. ‘Although the protein ball is a good snack, it is made up of dried fruits such as dates, apricots or raisins which are very high in sugar’, says May.
Too much chocolate: Although I have a sweet tooth and can easily say I am addicted to chocolate, I don’t need to avoid it completely, says May. ‘You need to think about quantities. Half a large bar is too much. I would suggest a small row, maximum. Dark chocolate is a healthier option. But whatever brand you go for, you need to make sure it has a minimum of 70 per cent cocoa solids because then you are getting the antioxidant value which makes it a little healthier, and it also has less sugar.’
Too much of the good fats: I thought I was doing the right thing by snacking on nuts, particularly walnuts which May points out have a high level of omega-3s. However, ‘A handful needs to be a small handful. That’s 8-9 maximum otherwise its very calorific’, says May.
Too much starchy veg: Who doesn’t love a weekend roast? May says it can be a healthy and balanced meal, if you do it right. ‘You’ve chosen parsnips, peas and potatoes which are all starchy veg and quite a lot of carbs. Instead, swap some for dark green leafy veg such as broccoli, cabbage and green beans to balance it out.’
Not enough protein: A sweet potato and leek soup for lunch will not sustain me, according to May. ‘If you increase your protein, you’ll find you crave less sugar and therefore eat less calories’, she says.
Less fruit: I’m packing in the fruit in replacement for biscuits, but I could be doing more harm than good. ‘Really you should be having a maximum of two [pieces of fruit] per day.’ I was eating two pieces in my morning smoothie, and up to three more in the rest of the day. ‘Although it has got health benefits with the vitamins, minerals and fibres, it is high in sugars even though its natural sugars.’
The type of fruit you chose is important, too. ‘Mango is a sweet fruit and grapes are a fruit very high in natural sugars. I would try and limit the portion to a small handful.’ And about those green juices; ‘It’s worth noting the ratio of veg to fruit. Ideally, we want three veg to one fruit.’
Too much alcohol: I’m not making quite enough effort with chosing the healthiest alcoholic beverages. ‘We do need to remember its sugar and will contribute a lot to your calorie intake for the day. Soda and lime are good choices.’ As for the hangover the next day; ‘I would really advise a protein rich meal to keep you sustained for the morning, using eggs, fish, chicken or smoked salmon, alongside some carbs because you will be low on sugars.’
Too much snacking: Where I’m lacking on protein, I’m gaining on the snacks. ‘There is a lot of research now to suggest that if we can have longer periods between our meals, we start to release fat and lose weight. As long as the meals have good protein, vegetables and fibre at every meal, you can probably last 4-5 hours between meals.’ May describes the perfect plate as half vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter carbs. For weight loss, chose starchy veg, such as butternut squash or sweet potato to get even more benefits. ‘White rice or white pasta has little nutrient value’, she says.
Click here to see how Vanessa finally budged over a stone during her 8 week transformation with No1 Fitness.
May Simpkin is a UK registered practitioner with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition. She is an experienced clinician, practicing functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition. She is bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHC, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT. In addition, she is registered with IFM, The Institute for Functional Medicine and a member of the RSM, The Royal Society of Medicine.